Schools could close as part of education review getting under way in Eyemouth

Eyemouth High School.
Eyemouth High School.

Approval was granted this week for the most radical overhaul of mainstream education provision in Berwickshire and the rest of the Borders for generations.

Primary closures and amalgamations are on the cards over the next two years as the region’s entire school estate, serving almost 16,000 pupils, comes under review by Scottish Borders Council.

“There is a consensus that we can reduce the number of schools based on school roll figures and projections,” said Donna Manson, service director for children and young people, in a report to the council’s executive on Tuesday.

“There is a clear message that the council must take action to ensure the resources we have in these challenging fiscal times are used wisely and efficiently.

“Stakeholders have identified that we need to rationalise the school estate of nine secondaries and 60 primaries and reduce the number of schools in order to achieve best value for the resources we have.”

Ms Manson was alluding to outcomes from so-called pre-consultation meetings held in the region’s secondary schools, each with its own cluster of feeder primaries, in March this year.

At these gatherings, stakeholders were given facts and figures about schools rolls, the condition and capacity of buildings and cost per pupil in each catchment area.

And based on that feedback and level of engagement, Eyemouth High School cluster has been prioritised to be in the first part of the review, starting this month.

“This will allow a more focused engagement with key stakeholders and act as a preparation for any for any relevant formal proposals that may be brought forward,” said Ms Manson.

“The sustainability of all schools within the Eyemouth cluster will be discussed.”

All school closures must undergo a process of statutory consultation and require the ultimate sanction of the Scottish Government.

Councillors heard that 40 people had attended the Eyemouth meeting and completed questionnaires, while a further 37, including six pupils, had responded online.

“Concerns were raised in relation to the condition and capacity of Eyemouth Primary, with lack of space highlighted, and interest was expressed in developing the site of the old Eyemouth High School,” said Ms Manson.

“The catchment areas around Burnmouth, Lamberton and Chirnside were raised as potentially worthy of review.

“The dropping roll at Cockburnspath was also raised as a matter of concern.”

By way of contrast, just 35 people – and no pupils – offered feedback after the Berwickshire High School cluster’s meeting in Duns.

As a result of that lack of interest, the formal schools review there will not take place until 2017 or the year after.

“Owing to the low level of response, it is viewed that further engagement is required to discuss the core facts and gather responses before a decision is made on whether any form of focused consultation is required,” said Ms Manson.

The condition of Swinton Primary School is, however, being addressed as a priority, she added.

One school’s fate sealed at Tuesday’s meeting was Eccles/Leitholm Primary.

The executive agreed to immediately invoke the statutory consultation process to confirm the permanent closure of the school, mothballed in June.

Its last five pupils left that month, and the three due to carry on this term have now been found places elsewhere.